A 61-year-old Oglesby man is charged with violating state wildlife code when he allegedly took two young bald eagles from a nest site between Peru and Oglesby.
Steve Patterson, a wildlife photographer, faces two counts of illegal taking a bird of prey and two counts of taking a protected species and keeping it alive, said Sgt. Hank Frazier of the Illinois Conservation Police.
The two eaglets are alive and in the hands of rehabilitators in the Chicago area.
The nest, the two adult eagles and the two eaglets were watched and photographed by many this spring because the nest was visible along the west side of Route 251, 1.5 miles south of the Illinois River.
Frazier explained events leading to the charges.
Patterson contacted the DNR about the birds and their welfare, saying people were getting too close. The DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advised Patterson to leave the birds alone.
At some point the two eaglets were on the ground and the adult birds were often perched in the tree above, Frazier said.
On Saturday, June 1 Patterson allegedly captured one eaglet, took it to his residence, captured the second eaglet and took it home as well. Patterson then contacted the DNR.
However, when Patterson called he did not say he had captured the birds, Frazier said. The DNR repeated its plea for him to leave them alone.
Patterson allegedly called Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Chicago and they came down and picked up the young birds.
The next day, in monitoring the nest, the DNR discovered the two eaglets gone. Officers saw a set of tire tracks in the mud and their investigation led to Patterson, Frazier said.
One eaglet had a minor injury and both are being treated and fed until they can be released. The adult birds soon abandoned the nest site, he said.
Patterson is to appear July 28 in La Salle County Circuit Court, Ottawa.
Patterson faces a similar charge in Wisconsin. On March 15 Patterson was charged in Juneau County for harassing protected wild animals. Patterson pleaded no contest and is expected to pay a fine of $151.50, according to Juneau County Clerk of Court office.
Frazier said the case underscores a lesson: Leave wildlife in the wild or call conservation authorities, he said.
“The parents were there and still taking care of the young,” Frazier said. “One of the (young) eagles was injured but the other was not.”
Fish and Wildlife Service officials advised the DNR that young eaglets often end up on the ground when they are close to fledging, Frazier said.
“One of the eagles was perfectly healthy,” Frazier said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It has no parents now to teach it how to hunt. It makes it harder to rehabilitate these birds and let them back into the wild. Oftentimes people think they’re helping animals out but they’re really doing more harm. That’s one of things we want to stress. Leave wildlife alone, the parents are still there.”